Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Music Of The Icosahedrons: Love In A Time Of Combat

     [Every now and then a reader from the old Palace of Reason or Eternity Road days will ask me to recycle some essay from back when. The request I’ve honored today is for the following three essays, the first of which appeared in November 2005. They encapsulated my view on the corruption feminism and the destigmatization of free-for-all promiscuity have worked on relations between men and women. They still do. -- FWP]

     Fran here. Today's subject isn't one suited to the Curmudgeon's voice, so today you'll get me unfiltered by his circuitous yet grandiloquent bombast.

     The stimulus was this post by the esteemed Charles Hill of Dustbury, long one of my favorite citizens of the Blogosphere:

Just friends

     Alicia at LOOK@OKC distrusts the term:

I have decided that it's possible for men and women to be friends if neither of them want anything other than friendship. Of course this mutual lack-of-nookie & love-seekin' is rare. I spoke with an older male friend of mine who admits that many men will lurk about waiting for their chance ... yet after knowing a female for years, he finally accepted that nothing would happen. In a way, he accepted his role as a friend to her.

     I have also decided that men and women can be friends if one or both of them is ugly and non-sexual. In my opinion, men find it hard to be on platonic terms with a female they'd want as a bedmate. Women may find this situation equally frustrating, but speaking from experience, there is a line one can draw between "friend" and "other" that is fairly easy to ascertain and respect.

     So, I think men can be friends with women they find unattractive. And vice versa. However, once sexual desire and want come into the picture, the rules change ... as do many of the motives.

     Well, maybe. I haven't run up against this particular wall, but this is only because my acceptance "that nothing would happen" usually falls within the first twenty seconds of meeting someone.

     And I'm not prepared to argue, as Laura does, that "men do not have a clue how to behave around a woman"; surely some of them must, or the species presumably would have died out years ago.

     (Apologies for lifting the whole thing, Charles; I didn't see a reasonable way to excerpt it.)

     There's a great deal of contempt hidden in the articles Charles references and links. Contempt for men, of course; that's the only sort that's currently permissible in discussing inter-gender relations. A man who expressed the inverse sentiments would be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of the Blogosphere on a rail, wouldn't he?

     Well, we shall see.

     First, a couple of prefatory remarks. (Yes, I know that's a redundancy.) I speak for no one but myself. There may be persons with similar views, but they can be trusted to express them for themselves. Also, please remember that generalizations of the sort you're about to read will normally have numerous exceptions, just as the statement that "men are taller than women" doesn't insist that there are no five-foot men or six-foot women. Also, please consider the following contentions confined to American men and American women; my knowledge of the behavior of other cultures is more academic than direct.

     Finally, for the gentleman who asked, in reference to this post, why I styled it "The Music Of The Icosahedrons": Well, mostly because it tickled me. But also because of the imagistic play against the well-known cliche: "as smooth as the music of the spheres." Spheres are smooth; it's a defining characteristic. Icosahedrons are not. I'll make use of this meta-title for essays about social, cultural, and philosophical matters where I perceive a certain roughness, or where the introduction of a little roughness to what appears to be a "settled debate" strikes me as likely to do good.

     Consider yourselves warned.

     The typical American woman, of whatever age, height, weight, race, color, creed, or walk of life, is a profoundly confused creature. This is inescapable; most women don't have the intellectual horsepower or the strength of character to deal with the barrage of conflicting dictates and desiderata to which being an American woman in the year of Our Lord 2005 subjects her. Therefore, the typical American woman lives a life marked most plainly by incoherence and bafflement. In short, she's out at sea, with no buoys nor moorings in sight.

     Women would like to blame this on men, but it's at least as much their own fault.

     When a creature rebels against that which has been pre-programmed into it by genetics and reinforced by natural selection, it will be badly stressed. If the rebellion is conscious, some of the stress will be intellectual and emotional. Here is the foundation for American female malaise, and for its low-grade hostility toward American manhood.

     The syndrome manifests itself most visibly in single women, whether never married or divorced. Married women, if they're to make a go of married life, learn to thrust it out of their conscious minds, to bury it as deeply in their subconsciouses as possible. Those whose marriages succeed have done an adequate job of interring it; it's a necessary condition. Those whose marriages fail have often allowed it to rise again. Like the South, this is a cause lost well in advance.

     Our typical case should have a name; let's call her Mary Smith. For starters, let's imagine her to be single, self-supporting, and living on her own rather than with a husband, lover, or any other variation on that theme. Let's have a run-through of typical Mary's typical day.

     She rises early, as do most working Americans, and heads for the shower to bathe and groom herself. What to wear? Well, dress codes, except for a very few customer-contact-intensive businesses, are all but extinct, so she has her choice. But here's where her conflicts begin.

     Glamorous clothes tend to be less comfortable than not-so-glamorous ones, but there's that nice Ben over in Marketing, whose eye she thinks she might have caught. She'd like to explore that possibility further, and dressing attractively might help. But it might also bring more of the attentions of Larry, her pantingly overeager coworker in Accounting, and that she definitely doesn't want. Also, her work involves some to-and-fro in a largish building, so form-flattering clothes and high heels have some practical negatives attached.

     But she's thirty-two, unmarried and childless. Her job, her fitness regimen, maintaining her apartment, and practicing her pastimes have sharply limited her social opportunities. If she doesn't snag a mate at work, what's she supposed to do? Sleep alone forever? The bars are no help, and don't even think about the lonelyhearts' ads.

     She decides one way or the other, agonizes in the same fashion over makeup and perfume, and heads out to her car to drive to work.

     Oh damn, the car won't start. It won't even crank; she's left the driver's door slightly ajar, and the cabin lights have drained the battery. Well, at least it isn't raining.

     She unearths the battery charger her most recent boyfriend urged her to buy, and pops the hood on her car. There's the battery, those are the terminals: red for positive, black for negative, just like the color codings on the charger leads. Just clip red to red and black to black, plug the charger into the extension cord, and plug the extension cord into the wall. What could be simpler?

     In prying the protective cover back from the red terminal, her grip slips and her hand flies into the propped-open hood. She bruises her hand and breaks a nail.

     Crap! That manicure was only five days old. Money is tight; she hasn't the thirty bucks she'd need to get her nails redone. To say nothing of the swelling, which looks as if it might blossom into an impressive bruise. She'll just have to hope no one notices. She certainly hopes Ben and Larry don't notice, albeit for different reasons. Unfortunately, some of her cattier coworkers are odds-on to spot it and mention it in public. Competition never ends in the single career woman's world.

     Thirty minutes later, the car starts, and she's off to the Place of Little Appreciation where she earns her daily bread. Traffic is no worse than usual, but the usual is quite bad enough. Unfortunately, the alternative is moving into the city, or the quasi-urban belt around it, and that's something she just can't afford. The combination of traffic delays and her automotive mishaps puts her forty-five minutes late in getting to her desk. Heads come up as her coworkers note her tardy arrival. She doesn't see The Boss, but he'll know as well. He has his ways.

     Work is, well, work. There's too much of it, and little of it is rewarding apart from the salary she gets for it. She keeps to her desk, straining to maintain her concentration as the life of the office swirls around her. Some of the girls are sporting flattering new outfits and hairdos. Suzie, that transparent trollop, came to work in a tight silk blouse, skin-tight leather toreador pants and five-inch sling-back stilettos. All morning she parades around as if demanding admiration -- and she gets it. Mary can't help but notice the comments: barely polite lust from the men, unconcealed resentment from the women. Suzie bathes in it. Mary wonders about her own relatively conservative habits of dress, and whether she'll have to modify them to have a chance with Ben, or with any of the office's other single men. Whatever else she might say about Suzie, at least the girl is never alone.

     To avoid having to stay too late, Mary declines an invitation to join her coworkers for lunch and works through her lunch hour, munching a vending-machine sandwich as she ages trial balances and projects exposure ratios.

     The afternoon is just more of the same. Ben doesn't stop by to chat her up, but then, neither does Larry. At least no one comments on her bruised hand or her broken her hearing.

     By the time Mary's ready to leave, it's dark out, and there's no one else on her floor. She's moderately frightened of the dark, as most women are, but she'll be damned rather than ask the male security guard to escort her through the parking garage. However, she makes it to her car without incident, gets in, and heads off.

     Let's see: is this a Yoga night? No, not on Wednesday. But she's low on several staples, so she can't go directly home. Damn. A stop at the supermarket means she'll miss tonight's episode of Survivor: Buried Alive In A Manila Landfill. Well, it's that or not eat.

     At home, she discovers that her cat has knocked over her amaryllis plants and peed into the soil. Damn cat. She ponders yet again whether having something to love is worth all this trouble.

     There's a message on her answering machine. Her mother wants her to come home for dinner on Sunday. Except when the invitation is for a holiday, that's a sign of trouble. Trouble meaning a set-up with one of her friends' unmarried relatives. They're all so dull, so earnest, and so conventional. Granted, they're all employed, they all make decent livings, and she can't imagine any of them being actively dangerous, but where's the thrill in that? They'd all want her to give up her job and stay at home with the kids, and what's a woman without a job? Just a homemaker. Mom is much too ardent for grandkids. She's being a Thirties throwback with these introductions. Mary can do her own penis-hunting. She decides not to return the call.

     Half an hour later, the groceries are away, the mess has been cleaned up, and Mary is perched on her sofa before the television, her Caesar salad made from packaged, pre-shredded lettuce and packaged, pre-cooked chicken strips, dressed with bottled raspberry vinaigrette from a socially conscious maker, nestled in her lap. There she'll while away the two hours she has available for leisure and personal maintenance.

     The shows are all about glamorous single people with glamorous lives, pursuing and being pursued by other glamorous single people with glamorous lives. They seem to spend all their money, time, and energy on sex and clothing. It's unrealistic, two-dimensional, even bizarre to imagine that these are representations of real lives she's seeing...but the faces, bodies and clothes are so beautiful, the settings are so appealing, and the lifestyle so magnetic...

     That's what you want, whispers a tiny voice in her backbrain. She's heard that voice many times over the years. Indeed, what she sees on the screen is a refined, upscale version of the life she lives...set out to live. Maybe she hasn't gotten anywhere lately, but there's still time.

     At ten o'clock, she shuts off the TV, undresses, removes her makeup, and slides into bed. She has no alternatives: she has to get up at six to make it to work on time, after all. She notices on her nightstand the book she'd been reading, but that she'd neglected for three nights running: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Lots of good stuff in there about men's oppression of women through fashion and popular standards of attractiveness. It has to go back to the library by the weekend, so she'd better get cracking.

     Mary's too tired to read with attention. A page or two is all she can manage. But the book stirs her thoughts and pulls her away from the threshold of sleep. Even after she's masturbated, she can't relax enough. Men are exploitative, dictatorial thugs. Why should a woman have to primp and preen and decorate herself to catch a man's eye? Why should she have to strain to be attractive and desirable to fit into the happenin' world? Why should it make a difference whether she looks young, fit, and vital, or like a puddle of dissolving flesh? Doesn't she have a right to a passionate, exciting marriage, children, and relief from all this pressure? Doesn't she have a right to be happy?

     Where are her answers to come from?

     Mary marks her place, puts down her book, and turns out the light. She falls asleep with tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

     Mary Smith might be a composite, but she's important nonetheless. She's an American Everywoman: determined to Have It All, clueless as to what that really means, bombarded with conflicting desires and enticements, and seriously underequipped for the life she's set out to live. All women are.

     The array of opportunities and enticements offered by the Official Portrait of the Glamorous Life contains a number of important contradictions. Mary simply cannot Have It All. The parts conflict. Until consciously admitted, the conflicts seriously strain a woman's psyche. In particular, she becomes incapable of a relaxed relationship with the opposite sex.

     That's bad enough, but there's worse. Much worse. The emphasis on sexual desirability trumpeted by the entertainment media and our popular tastemakers applies almost solely to women's presentation of themselves to men. Men's appearances, within a relatively generous envelope, don't matter that much to women. Women sense that men are far more relaxed about their dress and grooming than they, and they resent it. Why us? seems the most common reaction, as they do all they can to stoke the mostly-visually-triggered fires of men's lust.

     The ongoing myth about male oppression of women and the continuing insistence that a woman must maximize her sexual allure to get and keep a man's love are mutually immiscible. These things require that a woman simultaneously believe that a man is an elusive prize to be won only by daunting, unceasing effort and self-discipline, and an enemy, sworn to break his woman to his will, who should be fought with every weapon to hand.

     Torn by these conflicting dictates, many American women -- millions, if not tens of millions -- go quietly, undetectably insane. They simply haven't got either the intelligence or the emotional fortitude to work their way through to the truth. Worse yet, their strongest traditional bastions in times of trial, family and faith, have been excoriated by the very taste-and-opinion-formers who promote the conflict from which they suffer. The family is a source of traditional wisdom about a life well lived. It's so five minutes ago! And you'll never see our Mary at church on Sunday. It's unfashionable. The characters on television don't go to church! Besides, one of her coworkers might see her. She wouldn't want that. She might get a reputation one of those Christians.

     We're creating a womenfolk peppered with lunatics and child murderesses.

     Men are under far less stress from the influences outlined above. This makes quite a lot of women hate them.

     I've been there. Whatever you might think of me from my writings here, I'm a laid-back sort, disinclined to press myself or anyone else. I've been blessed with reasonable looks, reasonably good health, and enough charm to get away with a modest degree of roguishness without being murdered in my bed. Those gifts have served me adequately well in my dealings with women. As a single man, I didn't obsess about anything. As a married one, I'm content. Apparently, so is my wife.

     My experiences appear to be typical of American manhood. We simply don't ask that much. Oh, certainly we know what we like. Certainly, given the opportunity, we can overdose on it. But we focus better than women do. For one thing, it's hard-wired into our genes. For another, we know what women really respond to most powerfully: comfort, security, and status. (And shoes. Lots of shoes. The C.S.O. insisted that I throw that in.) So we concentrate on amassing those things, mostly by striving for advancement financially and in our occupations.

     A woman under stress might denigrate men for their "simplicity," but she envies us as well. What, after all, does it take to make John Doe happy? A bit of sex, some time and space to call his own, and a firm grip on the remote control! Compare that to the endless list of things Mary Smith needs for her pursuits, and tell me which would be easier to satisfy.

     Envy converts to hatred with appalling speed and efficiency.

     You might think I've overstated the case. (If you're a woman, you almost certainly think so.) You'd be wrong. If anything, I've understated it. Look at some of the things I haven't mentioned:

  • The female horror of aging.
  • The female fear of male infidelity and sexual caprice.
  • The numerous publications marketed solely to women, all of which promote some consumption- or glamor-based approach to achieving love and happiness.
  • The endless lists of products pressed upon women for beauty or glamor enhancement, all of which carry a subliminal message.
  • The pressures upon women to emulate male sexual aggressiveness and male proclivity toward polyamory.
  • The pressures upon women not to have children, against all the urgings and needs of their bodies.
  • The insistence by various cultural elements that, despite women's yearnings for male companionship, support and protection, "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" -- that women owe it to themselves to be independent of men, and that any compromise on that "ideal" is a form of self-betrayal, and the betrayal of the female sex.

     The synergy among these pressures could unhinge any woman. That we have as few female lunatics and child murderesses as we do speaks to some hidden reserve of endurance in the American woman's psyche.

     Men understand perfectly well how to relate to women. That's really what women fear:

  • Is she a "nice girl," unlikely to drop her drawers prior to marriage? Then marry her or let her be.
  • Is she a "liberated woman," who'll sleep around just to prove it to herself, regardless of what that might do to her? If it's just sex you want and you're willing to bear the costs, take her.
  • Is she a "career woman," who's decided that ascending the slippery pole of success justifies anything and that nothing else can take precedence? If you can offer her an increment of career altitude, she's yours; otherwise, forget it.
  • Is she a "castrator," out to prove that she can beat any man at any game and revel in the victory for that reason alone? Cross the street and walk quickly.
  • Is she a "total loss," too erratic to conform to any stereotype and too flustered to adopt any role, whose attitudes and behavior fluctuate with company, pharmaceuticals, and the phase of the moon? Look for her in a forthcoming Ken Russell movie, but otherwise keep clear.

     Men, no matter who they are, all want the same things:

  • Sex.
  • A mother for our children.
  • A calm and stable home.

     No, we don't want all these things from every woman we meet. The only things we want from every woman -- from every man, too -- are respect and some space in which to maneuver. And we understand that these are not going to be conceded to us by right; we have to earn them.

     When a normal, more-or-less sane man meets a woman he regards as attractive, he ponders, at least for a moment:

  • Whether she's sexually and / or matrimonially available;
  • Whether she's worth the effort;
  • What the costs and the consequences would be.

     It doesn't matter whether he's married, single, or in any in-between state. That's his natural reaction, just as deeply graven into him by genetics and natural selection as is a woman's desire for a protector, a provider, and children. With the exception of criminals, we learn to control it, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

     Women have been indoctrinated into the belief that this natural reaction is somehow a threat, or a denigration of their "strength," or both. This might be the worst of all the deceits the cultural engineers have put about. Strength is confident before desire. It doesn't run and hide. It doesn't pretend insult where there's an implied compliment to be savored. A mature, sensible woman will understand that, but sadly, their numbers are declining.

     Women's ever-deepening ineptitude at dealing with men is drawing near to crisis levels. As an illustration of this, I offer a snippet of a conversation I had some time ago with a beautiful young colleague, as best I can reproduce it. It began with irrelevancies, but she later steered it into a stock gender-war condemnation of men -- "present company excepted, of course."

     I: Why do you except me? What makes me somehow different from all these generic "men" you condemn?
     She: Well, you're nice, and you're settled, and you don't undress me with your eyes whenever you see me.

     I: (laughing) You need new glasses, kid. It's all I can do to keep my hands off you.
     She: (badly flustered) But -- aren't you married? You've never done or said anything like that!

     I: Yes, I'm married, but I'm still a man, and you're a very attractive young woman.
     She: So you're saying you want to sleep with me?

     I: Well, what I'd really enjoy is the stuff that comes before sleep, but you've got the general idea.
     She: But you've never --
     I: And I never will. I'm married. But why do you assume the desire isn't there? What makes you think I don't share the sexual aggressiveness you've found in all the other men you know? I'm not that old!

     [A long silence followed.]

     She: I guess I don't understand you.
     I: No, I think you're bright enough to understand me, or any man. You might not want to, though. Why do you dress and make yourself up as you do?

     She: I want to look nice!
     I: And you want to look nice because...?

     Gentle Reader, she had no answer. As God is my witness, she could not, or would not, tell me why she wanted to dress, make up her face, and style her hair attractively. Take my word for it: her efforts in that direction were both considerable and very successful. That was an intelligent twenty-six-year-old woman pursuing a career in military engineering, a field that's 95% male.

     Perhaps time will allow her to become more candid with herself about what she wants and what she does to get it, but for the present, she's following a script -- and the dialogue between her and the male half of her species is composed strictly of typeset condemnations of everything we are and do.

     I could wind this up in a number of ways, but the point I'd like to press home is the overwhelming importance of being honest with oneself about one's desires and fears.

     The typical American woman of today is so thoroughly confused about what she desires and what she ought to desire, what she fears and what she ought to fear, that honesty even in the privacy of her own skull comes at a terrible price. The mutually contradictory directives from her body, from her peers, from her family, from feminist "leaders," and from the entertainment media pull at her with extraordinary power. Such is her desire to conform -- women are far more sensitive to social pressures than are men -- that even to inquire of herself what she really wants, and what she's willing to do to get and keep it, is a struggle. What if the answers aren't acceptable to her parents, to her coworkers, to her friends and acquaintances, or to Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown? How can all these demands, all this stress, or this welter of mutually exclusive goals be fair?

     You won't often see me write this, so look sharp: It isn't fair. But then, neither is life. Some women are given perfect skin or teeth. Some are given beautiful faces or figures. Some are given high intelligence. Some are born into wealth. Each of these is a currency with which some of the good things of life can be bought -- but not the same goods, not in the same amounts, and not forever.

     The woman who wants to improve her relations with men will first clarify her own appreciation of what she wants, including (of course) what she wants from a man. That and only that will make it possible for her to be honest with men -- and to know how to deal with them not as enemies, and not with contempt, but from a position of strength.

     Gentle Reader, if you're a woman, and if the above offends you, or if you consider it ridiculous, incoherent tripe from one whose possession of a Y chromosome has handicapped his thinking, well, you're entitled to your opinion. Just remember that reality is indifferent to your opinions...and, come to think of it, to mine as well.

     That is all.

          Love in The Time of Combat, Continued

     I expected the previous essay on this topic to generate some commentary, but I seriously underestimated the volume, both in number and in stridency. All the same, I'm confident that the nerve I touched is one that needs a good firm massage. People don't write either to praise or condemn you unless you've penetrated to the pinnacle of their priorities -- or their private pain.

     Part of the confirmation is present in this ludicrous Maureen Dowd essay from a week ago's New York Times Magazine. I shan't trouble to recap it for you; it's still on-line, so capture it while you still can. (I have a feeling Dowd will soon be wanting to live it down, if she doesn't already.) A substantial number of women near Dowd's age (50) are in her position: mateless, unable to find attractive male prospects, and without the slightest clue why.

     It is possible to possess a huge number of great gifts -- good looks, high intelligence, affluence, social grace, the ability to put 9 out of 10 rounds through the X-ring at 100 yards -- and still be unable to mate happily and securely. There are factors in the mix that no individual, male or female, can control. Moreover, they dwarf the things one can control, utterly and irrevocably. Therefore, it's-just-not-fair plaints about one's romantic difficulties or defeats are pointless; indeed, they indicate an inability to grasp the essential nature of reality.

     What are these uncontrollable factors before which even the most gifted of us are powerless? Other individuals.

     If you want to guarantee yourself a life of helpless frustration in everything you do, here's the shortest route:

When other people's desires clash with yours, simply declare them to be wrong.

     If we omit the special case of hatred -- the desire that harm come to an innocent person -- there's no such thing as a "wrong" desire. In the nature of things, there cannot be. There are wrong actions, of course, but simply to want is above all judgments but God's -- and lately He's been silent on the subject.

     Inasmuch as courtship is a two-person pursuit, which can be ended by either party with no need for the other's consent, it should be obvious that to keep the thing going requires each participant to accommodate the other's desires. Partnerships of any sort require some of this, of course, but on the field of romance it's the sole, indispensable glue that holds two people together.

     I've written about this before, in other ways and venues:

To love is to risk. To love is to drop one's general defenses to let another inside, and to extend the borders of self to enfold that other person, despite any flaws or maladies he might carry. To love is to incorporate the well-being of another into one's own highest priorities, even though one can never protect another half as well as oneself.

     To love is to grow.

     The emotional crescendo of love involves the dissolution of "I" and "thou" into "we." Your priorities gradually merge into hers, and hers into yours. At its completion, on essential matters at least, neither of you could fail to want what the other wants, nor could either of you fail to detest what the other detests. Each ego is not submerged but enlarged by the incorporation of the other.

     This approach to love has some important corollaries. First, when love fails, it's because that merger has come undone. The egos begin to see themselves as distinct from one another once more. When clashes of desire arise, the partners can't quite remember how they melded them long before. Drivers that propelled the original coalescence appear no longer to function. Which is why one should practice well the habits of love -- the "doing," apart from the "feeling" -- to sustain him through his rough patches. We all have them, even the strongest, wisest, and most passionate of us.

     But second, and more important to the unmated, there are persons with whom we are irremediably incompatible. It doesn't matter how strong the sexual attraction is, if one or more of her essential desires strikes you as loathsome. And of course the converse is true as well.

     Many persons will split hairs over this, will claim that "you can get used to almost anything," and that a sufficiently strong willed commitment will trump even the deepest revulsions. To which, if I may borrow a page from the oeuvre of my colleague the Curmudgeon, I must reply:


     An essential desire is one that is "of the essence;" that is, it's a value integral to the nature and identity of the person who holds it. If you're to merge with her, it must become one of your essential desires as well -- and if it really, truly repels you, how on Earth will you manage that?

     There might be exceptions. For example, you might harbor strong but irrational prejudices against the sorts of persons she prefers as friends. Perhaps you could unlearn them. Alternatively, if they really are lowlife scum, perhaps, in the light of your company, she'll come to see them for what they are. But if she's a militant atheist and you're a devout Catholic, or she's unalterably averse to having children and they're your fondest wish, or she's a passionate socialist and you're a passionate libertarian, forget it! You have no practical chance of making it work.

     Compatibility of essential desires is not sufficient, but it is necessary. I speak from experience.

     Over the millennia, men have remained more or less constant in what we require from a generic mate:

  • Sex,
  • A calm and stable home,
  • A modicum of emotional support in our times of trial,
  • Space and time for our autonomous pursuits.

     Because our essential desires are few, and because some of them don't demand that others share them or participate in them, as a rule we're fairly easy to please. We have a few "thou shalt nots" -- keep your cotton-pickin' hands off the remote control, babe -- but apart from the desires enumerated above, we have virtually no "thou shalts." You want your own friends, ladies? Your own involvements? A career outside the home? Fine, just as long as none of it compromises the home itself.

     Because we're so easy to please, and because ours is the sex upon which the romantic / sexual initiative has been bestowed by Nature, most of the human race eventually marries. Granted, a lot of modern marriages don't last, but at least men still set forth to get mated, and we almost all succeed at that much.

     At this point, I'd like to digress a bit to cover a contentious topic that badly needs elucidation: sexual allure.

     Do men prefer certain female somatotypes? Yes, we do. So do women. Moreover, they're the same ones. They're not the ones sported by supermodels. Women that fragile, that dependent on clothing and makeup to attain desirability, and whose bodies are that likely to be ravaged by the passage of years into something stooped and desiccated are not appealing as long-term partners. The mind boggles at the image of one of those praying-mantis figures sporting the bulge of a full-term pregnancy. How could such a woman survive, unless she did what Victoria's Secret icon Tyra Banks did: cast off the emaciated look demanded by the fashion photographers and allow her body to develop?

     With regard to glamor and its appurtenances, these have their place. A woman who knows how to use them, and uses them when appropriate, can add sparkle to her life, and to her husband's eyes as well. But a sensible man knows better than to expect the missus to make dinner in movie-star makeup, a Givenchy gown, and five-inch heels. At least, not every night.

     As for women's desires, a key component of this fascinating but terrifying subject is how little some women know about them -- their own desires, that is.

     The aforementioned Maureen Dowd essay is a perfect demonstration. Dowd appears to have invested more of herself in what the dominant feminist voices told her to want than in anything natural and heartfelt. So at fifty, she's still alone and wanting to be otherwise, still muddled about what she really wants in and from a man -- and berating men for her ambivalence. Worse, she castigates women who conform to the traditional model of the feminine partner for assorted betrayals of their sex, and hints darkly of emotional, social, and political tragedies to befall them and their female progeny.

     So we have here a single woman well into her middle years, who isn't quite clear in head or heart, who holds a number of nebulous grudges against men and their norms, and who can't get a date. Given that she's laid the responsibility for her condition on everyone and everything but her identity, values, and preferences, what could her prognosis be, other than spinsterhood all the way to the grave?

     Imagine the sort of man who, knowing Dowd for what she really is, what she believes and how she feels, would still be willing to bed her. What could one call it other than "combat sex?" And what could one expect from it but stained sheets and morning-after angst?

     The bottom line is simple:

  1. One must have a basic, if unarticulated, understanding of love to love successfully.
  2. One must somehow find a mate whose essential desires are compatible with one's own.
  3. One must learn to do love as well as feel love.

     Everything else is peripheral, marginal, or superficial. Great loves and enduring families do not form around couples united mainly by their fanaticism for Toad the Wet Sprocket, the New York Rangers, or pepperoni pizza. They don't form between persons who badly want to get laid and find one another sufficiently un-repulsive to do it with. They don't form between persons obsessed with themselves and their extrinsic goals in business or commerce. They form when a man and a woman with compatible values allow each other's desires to become equal in importance to their own, and commit themselves to the sort of life and the sort of self-discipline that implies.

     There's a word I've been hesitating to use, in part because it's so seldom mentioned in connection with love and romance, and in part because I use it so often. But I can resist it no longer; it's too critical to this whole matter of allowing one's beloved's desires to enter the space where he keeps his own, and to blend with them inseparably.

     The word is humility.

     The humble man accepts that certain things are beyond his control. Among other things, it requires that he accept what he is by virtue of being a man -- or a woman. Among the many things over which we have no control, our natures as men and women must surely be numbered. Were we to accept ourselves as what God made us, and our opposites in their turn, a tremendous fraction of the romantic / sexual malaise that stifles and hampers relations between the sexes would be dissipated at once.

     Apparently this is easier said than done.

     (P.S.: Anyone who writes to upbraid me for my use of pronouns above will receive a large wad of personalized, guaranteed non-sexist abuse by return mail. Consider yourselves warned.)

          Love In The Time Of Combat Part 3.

     Fran here. A few months ago, I penned an essay on the deterioration of mental health among American women. It elicited a wide range of passionate responses. I expected that it would do so; the fragility of the female psyche is a topic generally deemed off-limits to male exploration. And indeed, those who differed with my theses attained a degree of stridency that approached apoplexy.

     So potent a subject deserves an update from time to time. As it happens, FOX News has provided the seed material with an article today:

Call it "Bachelorettes Gone Wild." While grooms are tempering their stag night shenanigans, brides-to-be are kicking stuffy traditions to the curb and getting rowdy to celebrate the end of their single lives.

     "It was a blast," Margie Parsons, of Huber Heights, Ohio, said of her bachelorette party at a strip club. "I got handcuffed to the stage and two women gave me a lap dance."...

     April Masini, author of "Think & Date Like a Man," says part of the reason for the change is that the women's liberation movement, for better or worse, has changed the meaning of marriage.

     "It used to be seen as women were not giving anything up when they got married; they were gaining a husband," Masini said. "But now it's seen as their last hurrah because they're giving up their single life instead."

     Do tell. What would account for this inversion of the older attitudes toward the entrance into the married state?

  • Do today's women truly feel that the exchange of their "singles' freedom" for the marital bond is a loss rather than a gain?
  • Is the life of the single American woman typically that much of a revel?
  • If it's not that much of a revel, is the "girls gone wild"-style bachelorette party an attempt to sow oats never previously contemplated?
  • What consequences for the bride-to-be's attitude toward her marriage, and her prospects of future happiness and contentment, might flow from these bacchanals?

     Single Americans, of either sex, have never before in history been as free to do as they please with their bodies and their leisure time. Relations between the sexes have never before admitted so many alternative arrangements. The broadening of the mores has applied to both sexes equally: where it was once commonplace for men to "get away cleanly with behavior for which women would be roundly denounced, today's sexual ethos no longer discriminates between them. What has happened to the old notion that, were women as "free" as men to do as they please, all the courtship and mating differences between the sexes would attenuate to nothing? Why are they exchanging patterns instead?

     It's possible that no such exchange is actually in progress: that to generalize from the cited article, plus conformant anecdotal evidence from one's personal knowledge, would lead one astray. But it's also possible that the article has identified a genuine trend. How can we know?

     For the moment, I would posit that we can't. The reported excesses of a segment of American women might or might not be representative of the whole; similarly the seeming "stodgification" of American men. Far more data, more broadly gathered and over a longer span of time, would be required to reach any firm conclusions. Given only what's been reported in articles such as the above, we can't know.

     But that is precisely what makes this the time in which to contemplate what sort of results we'd prefer, and what sort of changes we should make in the instruction we give our children.

     For some thirty-plus years, American children have been bathed in suggestions, intimations, and proclamations that there's no downside to commitment-free physical indulgences of any sort. The mantra of the prevailing gospel has been "If it feels good, do it." It would take an unusual degree of credulity to maintain that all those exhortations can have no relation to the changes that followed them:

  • 1,500,000 abortions every year;
  • Three out of every ten babies born out of wedlock;
  • A divorce rate nearly half of the marriage rate;
  • Surveys that put the percent of adulterous spouses at over 30%;
  • An unprecedented number of "blended families" ("lumpy families," in Maggie Gallagher's phrase) composed of children from two or more sundered marriages;
  • A rising degree of marital unhappiness, as evidenced not merely by the divorce rate, but also by the great popularity of marital counselors and institutions that vend services for the relief of marital distress.
  • Last but not least, the steady advance of the average age at first marriage:
    • Median age of bride in 1970: 20.8 years.
    • Median age of bride in 2003: 25.3 years.
    • Median age of groom in 1970: 23.2 years.
    • Median age of groom in 2003: 27.1 years.

     (NOTE: It's usually the case that one who presents statistics such as these will then cry for government action of some sort. I have no such intention.)

     The case could be made that the above trends demonstrate a widening rift between the sexes: increasing distrust, increasing unease about the risks of long-term bonding, decreasing effort going to the maintenance of the marital bond, and decreasing interest in progeny. What interests me most particularly is the possibility that changes in female behavior arising from the new, heavily promoted sexual hedonism, have stimulated the changes in men's attitudes toward women, matrimony, and family-making.

     Correlation is not cause. Correlations merely suggest an avenue for further investigation. But the correlations presented here, coupled to the sociological trends suggested by the cited article, are food for thought, particularly to him who wonders at fiftyish divorcees who grocery-shop in tube tops and Daisy Dukes, while single men in their forties seek lesbians to be host mothers to their as-yet-unconceived children.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sturdy Wisdoms: The Worst Habit

     [Just yesterday, after a jaunt on which I spent far too much money on cheese – it’s one of my more difficult-to-resist vices – I received an email from Dystopic of The Declination. He drew my attention to his most recent essay, and mentioned that he’d come to an opinion about mortgage debt that differed greatly from his original one. He wrote that the change was because of the essay below, which first appeared at Eternity Road on December 13, 2006. In appreciation of his missive and the implied compliment...and yes, in recognition of the folly of spending so much on exotic cheeses that I was moved to inquire of the cheese shop proprietor whether financing might be available...I repost it here. -- FWP]

     Your Curmudgeon is rather older than most wanderers of the World Wide Web, including most of those who hawk their opinions to a general audience. He received a different sort of upbringing from most, too. As his years lengthen, he finds himself ever more frequently revisiting the teachings of his youth and reviewing them for continuing soundness and applicability.

     Many of those lessons are still quite serviceable -- infinitely more so than the guff that's displaced them in more recent years. In part, that's due to an underlying shift in premises; half a century ago, no one would have dared to posit that right and wrong are relative, or that there can be no absolute moral standards, or that "good for you" and "bad for you" are anything but matters of opinion. Today one seldom hears anything else. If you don't believe it, either you don't have children or you haven't paid enough attention to what their "teachers" have been telling them.

     Accordingly, your Curmudgeon has decided to trot out, one by one, the sturdiest and most useful of the simple wisdoms with which his own parents and teachers equipped him. It is his opinion that their promulgation could do quite a lot to correct the faults of modern American society, and even more to quell the rising tide of dissatisfaction with life that afflicts so many of our teens and young adults.

     Of course, opinions will vary. Read on, and judge for yourself.

     High among the homiletic primaries is this one: don't allow yourself to form bad habits. From the ordinary meanings of the words, this would seem self-evidently wise. For a "bad habit" is a behavior pattern that does harm to oneself. Of course, there's a heavy murk around that word "bad," whose variable interpretation has been the ingress for a lot of irrationality, but we'll get to that some other time.

     There are any number of habits on whose badness Americans would generally agree -- and not by thin majorities, either:

  • Avoidance of exercise;
  • Routinely bad nutrition and overeating;
  • Impropriety of disclosure (i.e., the habit of revealing sensitive facts about oneself or one's family, friends, and acquaintances to persons who ought not to be told);
  • Excessive television watching;
  • Smoking;
  • Drinking to excess;
  • The use of recreational drugs.

     The above is, of course, a partial list. Other bad habits less dramatic in their effects would draw general concurrence as well. But there has been a sea change in American attitudes so complete, yet so quiet, that the very worst of all habits, by which millions of persons have utterly destroyed themselves and their kin beyond all hope of renewal, is almost never addressed. Indeed, when it's mentioned, most persons either refuse to acknowledge it or turn away to conceal their embarrassment.

     The habit of which your Curmudgeon speaks is living beyond your means.

     This venerable phrase has almost been effaced from our culture. Yet our nation's habit of living beyond its means is a regular news feature, reported through innumerable channels at least once per month. What else does the federal deficit signify? What else does the American trade deficit signify? What else does it mean when the dollar drops in value against the currencies of other lands? (It's been quite a long time since a physician last clapped your Curmudgeon on the shoulder and told him that he's "sound as a dollar," and not because your Curmudgeon is quick to take umbrage at insult.)

     What's bad in the large is just as bad in the small, yet nearly all of us do it, and very few of us will admit to it.

     Likely you, Gentle Reader, are nodding, perhaps a bit reluctantly, at the unwisdom of "living beyond your means." But you haven't seen your Curmudgeon's kicker yet:

If you've borrowed money, for any reason whatsoever, that you can't immediately pay back out of your own reserves, you're living beyond your means.

     Yes, that includes home mortgages and car loans.

     A century ago, "mortgage" was a dirty word. (Car loans were, of course, unknown.) In fact, the word means "death pledge." It denoted a promise to return the mortgaged property to the legal ownership of the mortgagee -- the lender -- upon the mortgagor's -- the borrower's -- death. Indeed, it still means exactly that.

     Mortgages in the Nineteenth Century were almost exclusively the province and the bane of farmers. Private housing in non-farm areas was very seldom mortgaged. The income tax, the rise of the lending industry, and the demographic and financial conditions that prevailed after our two World Wars were the impetus by which Americans were goosed into thinking that living in homes they do not own, that could be ripped out from under them at any moment, was perfectly all right.

     It's hard to get reliable statistics on the matter, but according to a financial professional of your Curmudgeon's acquaintance, no fewer than 75% of all private homes are mortgaged. The deeds to those homes are encumbered in such a fashion that the persons who "own" them could be stripped of them at any time. It would not surprise your Curmudgeon too greatly if those provisions were invoked to put force behind a Kelo-esque eminent domain proceeding; financiers and politicians have always traveled in the same circles.

     But even apart from the hazards involved in living in mortgaged housing, it's almost always unwise to undertake a mortgage for reasons of simple financial prudence:

  • It's a long-term obligation, typically 15 years or more;
  • The lender is legally privileged over the borrower -- that is, nearly all the options rest with the lender, nearly none with the borrower;
  • The borrower's income, upon which he depends for his debt service, is almost never guaranteed;
  • A default on a mortgage is regarded as the worst of financial sins, and in the worst case can ruin an individual's financial standing for the rest of his life;
  • In the event of a default, the borrower seldom recovers any significant percentage of his notional equity in the mortgaged property.

     If a mortgage, which is secured by real property and carries tax advantages that are attached to no other form of debt, is unwise, then what need one say about chattel loans on cars and other movable property? What need one say about credit-card debt, which carries extremely high interest rates and has ruined millions of families in the past quarter century alone?

     Many a reader has been saying to himself "But how could I get the things I need without incurring these debts?" for several paragraphs now. Such questions arise from a perverse sense of "need" far more often than not. Americans are hooked on material self-indulgence; easy credit is the pusher that feeds our habit. Most of what we have, we do not need. We want it, and we certainly enjoy it, but those are far different things.

     "Need" is the gateway drug. "Need" is habitually "defined down" over time: from a house, to a car, to better clothes, to a better car, to a really nice house in a "suitable" neighborhood, to designer jeans and sneakers for the kids, to the latest iPods®, to a PlayStation 3 ® and all the "hot" games for it, to a Giant Economy Size bottle of Chivas Regal to dull the pain from having to pay for all that stuff.

     Man's needs are food, clothing, shelter, and heat. All else is discretionary. The truly prudent man does not incur debt to pay for discretionary items.

     Let it be admitted that most Americans, despite their debt anchors, manage to skirt the shoals of financial disaster. But an appalling number do not, and a significant fraction of those never quite recover from the wreck. Compound interest, which master financier Baron Philippe de Rothschild called "the eighth wonder of the world," is in fact the eighth horror of the world for those habituated to debt. Its ability to drain all the vitality from one's present and hope from one's future is unequalled by anything but cocaine and heroin.

     In what might be the supreme irony of ironies, innumerable Americans look for their salvation from their government. Not only is our government the most egregious abuser of credit in the history of the world, it has an unadmitted interest in encouraging debt to the widest possible extent. Widespread severe debt is the motivator for governmental abuse of the currency: inflation. Inflation in our fiat-currency system gifts Washington with billions of "free" dollars with which it can increase its power over the rest of us. But Americans with substantial savings will not tolerate inflation; Americans deeply mired in debt, seeing the chance to pay down their obligations with "cheap" money, will embrace it eagerly.

     If you're a young person who has yet to acquire any debts, don't! Live beneath your means; acquire savings. Only borrow when utterly forced to do so, and only as a capital investment in yourself: that is, for tools or an education. Be ruthless in assuring that every dollar you make arrives in your pocket with no debt-service strings attached.

     A young man with a white-collar salary, who restricts his consumption for just ten years and puts his unspent balance into conservative investments (i.e., steady 3% to 5% returns), can usually produce the entire purchase price of a house at the end of that period. He'll have no trouble affording the cash purchase of a used car. Does it mean that he'll live in a less opulent style than that enjoyed by his coevals? Yes. But it also means that the fangs of the debt habit and the shackles of compound interest will have no chance to snag him.

     An older man who has lived free from debt can be certain of mobility and security. He will have savings. No occupational reversal will have the power to dispossess him. Neither will misfortunes of nature render him helpless. He will have leverage in all negotiations that a man chained to debt and beholden to creditors would not possess. He will be as free as his individual efforts can possibly make him. When he passes from this world, he will be able to leave his progeny a substantial patrimony. More, he will have already shown them an invaluable example.

     A sturdy wisdom indeed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Psychopathy And Sociopathy And Where To Find Them

     From a recent conversation:

     FWP: I’m starting to think there’s no point in doing this any longer.
     CSO: Why?
     FWP: The whole lead-a-horse-to-water bit.
     CSO: When did you start writing?
     FWP: Not long after I met you. Call it twenty-five years ago.
     CSO: So what’s changed about people since twenty-five years ago, eh, genius?

     There are worse afflictions than having a smart wife with no governor on her mouth. (No, don’t send applications for the position, please; I’ll stick with what I have.) Anyway, she’s right: people have always refused to see that which clashes with what they prefer to believe. They read opinion-mongers like me – if they read them – mainly to wallow in confirmation bias: the reassurance that comes from being told what they already “know.”

     It can be daunting to confront one’s inability to change minds. Yet many thousands of us post tirades such as this every single day. I actually feel somewhat guilty when I need to take a day off from it. Never mind that there’s no money in it. (The fringe benefits aren’t much, either.)

     Yet the recognition can be a blessing as well. It reminds me that I do this for my own benefit: to gratify my need to express myself, and to enable me to confront my own preconceptions and biases by setting them down in black and white multicolored pixels. If others derive some benefit from these screeds, that’s merely lagniappe.

     Having said all that, it’s time to address the subject in the title of this piece. And before you ask: Yes, Gentle Reader: I believe that by the time you reach the end of it, you’ll see the relevance of this opening segment.

     Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. -- Robert A. Heinlein

     The use of certain words formerly regarded as technical jargon properly reserved to psychologists has become commonplace. The words I have uppermost in mind this fine Friday morning are psychopath and sociopath.

     There’s some variation in the “definitions” associated with those words, because they’re taken to denote mental aberrations that can only be inferred (and not with confidence) from behavior. Yet simple encapsulations apply to each of them:

  • A psychopath lacks empathy: i.e., the ability to resonate with others’ emotions.
  • A sociopath lacks conscience: i.e., the sense of others as persons with rights.

     Owing to the cheapening of all discourse (but especially psychological jargon), we frequently read statements from supposedly learned persons to the effect that “everyone’s at least a little [psychopathic | sociopathic].” I’m not going to take a position on that; there are enough subjects to write about. However, if we take it as a recipe for adjudging the behavior of others, it leads to certain classifications that can be useful in sociopolitical analysis.

     You may have heard of Bill Clinton. He has a famous wife, who was at one time the Secretary of State. (He also used to be a governor somewhere. Arkansas, I think.) As is the case with many persons whose spouses throw them into the shadows, he had a problem with sexual fidelity. It got some play in the popular press, if memory serves.

     That often happens to a man who marries a psychopath. Sex isn’t principally about physical sensations, though those are pleasant enough...if you’re doing it right, anyway. For the emotionally healthy person, it’s about the emotional implications of physical intimacy: This person cares enough about me to let me inside his defenses. If that kind of affirmation is absent from the sex act, it falls to a level below masturbation.

     The psychopath, unable to resonate with another’s emotions, is incapable of affirming them sincerely. He must play-act. He must say to himself, “If I really cared about this person, I would say and do thus and such. Do I want what he has to offer me, long-term or short? If so, then I must say and do those things.” His decisions are more or less cold profit-and-loss calculations.

     One who comes to the conclusion that he married a psychopath is chilled to the bone by it. It can lead him into channels of thought and action most of us would at minimum deplore. I submit that this model for the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton is consistent with the evidence.

     Sociopathy is an even scarier condition. To the true sociopath, the rest of us are no more than components in his schemes. At worst we’re obstacles to be driven around, over, or through. The ambitious sociopath – i.e., he who has outsized ambitions – will sweep as many other persons into his plans as he believes he must to get to his goals. He won’t care how many others he hurts, or who they are.

     Like most mental conditions, this one can be found in persons of all levels of practical competence. The incompetent sociopath will eventually be known as such. His schemes will be inept. More, their callousness will be ineptly concealed. A moderately competent sociopath will be more successful, both at achieving his aims and at concealing his sociopathy. When things come-a-cropper for him, he’ll often be able to get others to attribute it to human fallibility (alternately, “that’s how the cookie crumbles”). The highly competent sociopath has the potential, at least, to become known as a magnificent humanitarian and a great benefactor to Mankind, despite the utter indifference he feels toward others’ rights, prerogatives, and well being.

     In Robert A. Heinlein’s science-fantasy saga Glory Road, his co-protagonist Star, “Empress of the Twenty Universes,” at one point refers to a sociopath of extreme competence: an earlier Emperor who succeeded brilliantly despite a deep loathing for the very people he served. Glory Road is filled with insights such as that one: a breadth and depth of understanding of Mankind, both along its normal axes and at its extremes. It’s Heinlein at his very best...and its depiction of political figures and processes is indispensable to an understanding of how all political systems mature, deteriorate, and destroy themselves.

     The highly competent sociopath is a natural politician: a lead-pipe cinch to achieve high federal office. Whether he uses that office for “good” is wholly secondary.

"Government's a dubious glory...You pay for your power and wealth by balancing on the sharp edge of the blade. That great amorphous thing out there -- the people -- has turned and swallowed many governments. They can do it in the flash of an angry uprising. The way you prevent that is by giving good government, not perfect government -- but good. Otherwise, sooner or later, your turn comes." [Frank Herbert, The Godmakers]

     Yes, I’ve used that quote before. More than once, I think. Today it rings loudly in my ears for one particular, seemingly innocuous phrase: “the people.”

     What is “the people?” More to the point, how does the successful sociopath turned federal official view “the people?” Fisher Ames, a relatively unknown Founding Father, wrote that “The people, sir, are a great beast.” Herbert’s “great amorphous thing” formulation is, as the lawyers would say, on all fours with that viewpoint.

     Hearken to the Web’s favorite Bookworm:

     Is it redundant to say “the sociopaths in Washington D.C.”? Probably. But what I want to talk about is the spying that the Obama government committed against Donald Trump and the way that Obama himself signed an executive order allowing that illegally swept up data to be widely disseminated throughout the administrative state, ensuring leaks.

     Actually, I don’t want to talk about it. I want you to read John Nolte’s article explaining why Nunes’ announcement yesterday about the government’s surveillance revealed a scarily broad spying apparatus (affecting all Americans, something I’ve written about before); improper interception of communications from Donald Trump and his team; the reasonably inferable fact that Obama, who must have been briefed about the improperly swept up and identified communications, assured that they would be leaked to a happily complicit American media.

     If your mental and emotional calluses are heavy, you might shrug at the notion that The State has been monitoring everything you say and will happily and remorselessly use it to destroy you should it serve the State’s purposes. That, you might say to yourself, is the nature of the State, a “soulless machine” (Mohandas K. Gandhi). If you’re still enough of a cockeyed optimist to imagine that people go into politics and government out of a true desire to serve “the people,” you’re likely to be outraged: “If they could do it to Trump, they could do it to anyone! Hang them from the lampposts!”

     If you’re like me – i.e., inclined toward the analysis of men’s motivations and the evolution of social and political systems – you draw trend lines.

     The political class we suffer under today is the final stage in the evolution of sociopathy in a quasi-democratic order. To them “the people” are lower than beasts. “A great amorphous thing” isn’t an adequate description of our standing in their eyes; we’re clay to be molded into weapons, serfs, or toys. We exist to provide them with power, privileges, and perquisites. Those are the only reasons they tolerate our continued existence.

     I realized shortly after the election of Donald Trump that he represents a threat to our master class and its cushy arrangements. I’m only coming to realize how great a threat he is. Every other node of power or influence in Washington, and no few in the state governments, is maneuvering to neuter and destroy him. It has nothing to do with his supposed vulgarity or plebeian origins. Sociopaths cannot abide the company of honest men. When the honest man attains an elevation over theirs, he becomes a mortal danger to them and all they’ve built.

     Don’t ask whether Washington’s sociopaths agree or disagree with Trump’s values. They have no values of significance to the rest of us. How could they? We’re nothing to them. We’re votes...campaign workers and contributors...pieces in a game. The players don’t worry about the well being of the game pieces.

     And now, should the fit take you, you know where to find the most competent sociopaths currently walking the Earth.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

New Fiction (UPDATED)

     Fifteen years after emigrating, Holly—born Horace—Martinowski returns to Onteora County, New York where she was born and raised. Neither she nor it are the same as when she fled to Britain. Her earliest encounters are with people and events she didn’t expect. Her later ones cause her to wonder whether she might be home to stay.

     A companion story to A Place Of Our Own and One Small Detail.

     Only $0.99 in all eBook formats at Smashwords.

     UPDATE: Now available at Amazon, as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Political Chimera Of 2017

     The most curious aspect of our current situation in federal politics is one that’s hardly been discussed, much less explored in depth. The issue in controversy is the Republican Party’s stated intention to “repeal and replace ObamaCare,” the 2700 page legislative monstrosity that’s hashed medical insurance in these United States into an unpalatable mess.

     It’s been opined by many a pundit that among the reasons Mitt Romney was defeated in 2012 was his inability to campaign against ObamaCare, since he’d imposed a similar sort of medical-insurance fascism on Massachusetts during his term as governor. This, of course, is unfalsifiable, as the “experiment” can’t be repeated in a controlled fashion. However, it’s plausible, especially in light of the smashing victory of a presidential candidate who did campaign against ObamaCare: Donald Trump. At any rate, Trump made the repeal of ObamaCare a major platform plank. As he’s a man who expects to keep his promises, and who believes the public expects the same, Trump has made that outcome an early-first-term goal.

     Enter the Republican caucus in Congress. When we’ve spoken with disdain of “Establishment Republicans” these past few years, these are the specimens we’ve had in mind. The repeal-and-replace mission has caused them no small amount of agony. At this point it’s doubtful that any bill that reaches the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate will much resemble what the millions who elected Trump had hoped for.

     Why? The GOP now controls both the White House and Capitol Hill. With Trump in the Oval Office they no longer need to fear a veto. Senatorial filibusters have already been largely eliminated; the vestiges of that procedural rule are likely to fall very soon. The Supreme Court is unlikely to obstruct the process. So what’s the problem?

     This deserves careful treatment, so grab a fresh cup of coffee while I limber up.

     Any watcher of American politics will be aware that neither Republicans nor Democrats exhibit much fidelity to their campaign rhetoric. Both camps are aware of the general tenor of the electorate at any moment; they spend huge sums striving to make sure of it. And both camps will tell the voters what they think the voters want to hear, regardless of what they really intend once safely ensconced in office.

     Donald Trump has upset the applecart by making it plain through his actions that he intends to keep his campaign promises. This has upset many of Capitol Hill’s veterans, to say nothing of the political strategists and kingmakers in the GOP. The major point here is one that is taken as axiomatic by those persons: that once an entitlement is created, it cannot be taken away.

     That was the defensive redoubt of Social Security for many years. “They paid into it. They expect it. If we take it away, they’ll crucify us!” And indeed, there was some logic to it, as Social Security is nominally funded by a specific payroll tax. An American who believes he’s paid for something will not look favorably upon a politician who proposes to take it away. The same is true of Medicare, albeit to a weaker degree.

     I have no doubt that some voters would be displeased by the repeal of ObamaCare...but who are they? Did they vote for Trump or any other Republican now in a federal office? Would they be likely to do so in some future election? Is there some prospect of a benefit from pleasing such voters that would outweigh the displeasure of those who did support Trump and the Republicans in Congress?

     I can’t see it, myself. Moreover, we normally expect those we send to Congress to be reasonably intelligent. Granted that there are no Certified Galactic Intellects there, it’s not excessive to expect them to see what’s visible to the rest of us, and to answer easily answered questions...easily.

     But perhaps the political context isn’t as clear to those federal Republicans as it seems to me.

     In Robert Pirsig’s landmark Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, his alter ego Phaedrus is both inspired and confounded by a simple mantra: The more you look, the more you see. Rather than go into detail about how this was at first a stumbling block for Phaedrus, I’ll simply commend the book to those who haven’t yet read it. (For “extra credit,” determine why Phaedrus need not have been intellectually stymied, and what fault of logic led to his early troubles.)

     What I have in mind this morning is the inverse of that mantra, to wit: The less you look, the less you see. He who refuses to look past a certain predetermined horizon simply won’t see what lies beyond it. That can sometimes be fatal. One such case, sadly, is the reliance of politicians on the reports of pollsters and other public-opinion flacksters.

     The public-opinion “expert” has an agenda of his own. As with all of us, fulfilling that agenda will be higher in priority than anything else he might consider doing, including accurately and completely informing those who purchase his services. Indeed, the “expert’s” need to retain his clientele practically demands that he inculcate in them the assumption that his “expertise” is all they need – that they need not look beyond his reports.

     There is, of course, a spot of negative feedback available here. Ask Alf Landon. But in the near term, if the “expert” can persuade his politician client that the “expert’s” surveys and reports are all the politician needs to formulate his posture, it will serve the “expert’s” agenda.

     I have no doubt that many an “expert” has told his clients that his surveys indicate that the ObamaCare entitlement – i.e., the subsidies that go to some for the purchase of the insurance it mandates – is as untouchable as Social Security ever was. After all, no one has ever succeeded in repealing an entitlement. But then, no Congress has ever tried.

     Finally, among the major inhibitors of conservative action by Congress we must never neglect the baleful power of the media. The major media are completely and irretrievably “in the tank” for the Democrats and their version of social fascism. They will never, ever approve of a Republican initiative that reduces to any degree the power or the intrusiveness of the federal government. They put their considerable megaphones to the denigration of Republicans and the ideas of limited government with absolute predictability.

     The media get too much credit for just about everything. In particular, Republicans give the media too much credit for knowing the pulse of the American electorate. Every newspaper in America predicted the victory of Hillary Clinton. Despite her barely veiled promises to be a “third Obama term,” Republicans standing for office were virtually unanimous about their willingness to work with her and their uneasiness about Trump. They believed that the media and the pollsters it hired could see something they could not.

     This is not a complete picture, of course. There are some Republicans who live for good press. John McCain comes to mind. That habit cost McCain heavily in 2008, yet it seems not to have taught him anything. Perhaps some old dogs can’t learn, after all. However, he’s an exceptional case. Most Republicans are aware that the press – especially its most powerful barons –would prefer to see them reduced to the status of the Whigs. Yet they accept the accuracy of what the press writes about them and the popular opinion of them even so.

     Anyone can be wrong. Indeed, only by being wrong does anyone ever learn something new. But through this particular species of wrongness, the craven Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill are treading dangerously close to stamping a repealable entitlement with a Republican Seal of Approval. Perhaps the following graphic, shamelessly stolen from A Nod To The Gods, would enlighten them somewhat:

     “There are none so blind as those that will not see.” And of course, “The less you look, the less you see.” Verbum sat sapienti.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


     “What can’t be cured must be endured.” – old saying

     I was about to begin a typical tirade on a subject of current political interest. You can thank (or blame) Professor Reynolds for deflecting me from that course by reminding me about that little video just below.

     Some truths, particularly truths about the nature of Mankind and its components, must be expressed through humor. They’re too painful otherwise. If we try to confront them in the stark, no-BS manner with which men approach most serious problems, they inspire an immediate recoil, a desire not to see. That ostrich-like “make it go away” response is really a confession of sorts: the admission that we have encountered a fact that displeases us greatly, but that we can do absolutely nothing about. That’s why – apart from the humor of it – I viewed that little video as important enough to feature here a second time.

     For one with the engineering mentality – i.e., the mindset that views an encountered unpleasantness as something to be remedied as quickly and conveniently as possible – the acceptance of an immutable tragedy is about the most draining experience one can have. I’ve got that mentality in spades. All face cards, at that.

     The old maxim at the top of the page has the feel of an eternal truth, and perhaps it is. But there’s a word in there that bugs the living daylights out of me, precisely because I see an unpleasant condition as something to be remedied. The word, of course, is can’t.

     I view that word as a personal affront. I’ll divert the stars from their courses rather than concede that a problem is beyond my powers to solve. Whether the problem is expressed in formulas or homilies, my natural inclination is to solve the BLEEP!ing thing. The most painful moments in my life have been when I confronted a problem I could not solve...or a problem to which the only solutions involved consequences worse than the problem itself.

     And I’m here to tell you: If you’re a man – i.e., a possessor of the fabled Y chromosome and its multitudinous glories – you’re likely to feel exactly the same way. It’s a better test for gender than anything but a crotch inspection.

     A beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact. – Thomas Huxley

     These days it’s considered gauche to talk about the differences between the sexes, despite their obviousness and their evident importance. But a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch will be aware that that has never stopped me. Moreover, as the taboo against frank discussion of sex differences has persisted, those differences have become ever more significant drivers of the tensions between men and women. The urgency of bringing the subject back into our discourse is near to critical.

     One of the most important of those differences is the response to pain or loss. A typical man will respond to an unpleasant event or condition by trying to remedy it. A typical woman will prefer to talk about it to a sympathetic listener or a circle thereof.

     (Yes, there are exceptions. Need I remind my Gentle Readers – of either sex – that exceptions are exceptional? I didn’t think so.)

     There are many possible explanations for why this is so. That this is so is a fact. It lurks behind the statistical distribution of aptitudes and occupations between the sexes. It’s the reason we don’t see nearly as many female engineers as male engineers. I mean engineer in its strict sense: one who solves technological problems. I consider terms such as “sales engineer” and “requirements engineer” to be nothing but amphigory.

     In consequence of this difference, a woman who brings a personal problem to a man will likely be unsatisfied, perhaps even offended, by his response. “Fix the BLEEP!ing problem!” he will reply. He might even volunteer to do so himself. That won’t please her if what she wants is sympathy. Indeed, it might even induce her to perpetuate the problem deliberately until she can get some sympathy for it.

     His frustration at having his inclination denied and his aptitude spurned will be as painful to him as her problem is to her. Possibly more so, as it amounts to a denial of his nature: a denigration of what he’s good at.

     It’s one of the things driving an increasing number of men to go their own way.

     Before the tide of propaganda condemning the traditional sex roles as “patriarchal oppression,” the phenomenon I’ve described above was far less important. Men had their duties and responsibilities; women had theirs. Men had their social circles; women had theirs. Men had their approaches to problems; women had theirs. Few women expected a man to treat a problem the way a woman does. Indeed, a sensible woman – and women were far more sensible back when – would bring a problem to her man only if she wanted it solved.

     Such matters are torturous today for two reasons:

  • Women are relentlessly propagandized from an early age to believe that they can do anything a man can do, and just as well, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary;
  • Men are mercilessly browbeaten for being inclined to solve problems, and for being superior to women at the concentrated focus and logical thought processes problem-solving requires: i.e., for being men

     Of course, to say that where a woman can hear is likely to reap the whirlwind. As women have a disproportionate degree of social and political power today, the consequences can be devastating.

     Yet the psychological cleavage between the sexes persists. Why should we have expected anything else? Propaganda changes nothing. It doesn’t reduce women’s greater need for sympathy, or women’s superiority in providing it. The major difference today is that women have been deflected from their traditional roles in numbers so great that when she wants sympathy rather than a solution, the person nearest her will most likely be a man.

     Quite a lot of marriages have been wrecked on that rock. It’s made harder to avoid by another contemporary tendency: her tendency to object to his having space, time, and friends of his own. Should he bridle at that and insist on his prerogatives, he could find himself on the receiving end of a ton of shit – a metric ton.

     Our society having become what it is today, there’s nothing he can do about it. He cannot cure it, much as he’d like to. Yet enduring it is damned near impossible.

     “What can’t be cured must be endured.” It’s a tautology, really. Nor does it address those cases where “enduring it” brings suffering one might find too great to support.

     There are times it seems to me that no one is getting what he needs – “he” this time in the generic-singular sense that encompasses persons of both sexes. Men need to be appreciated and accepted for what we are; women need to be appreciated and accepted for what they are. The solution is in plain sight. It seems too obvious for words. Yet it’s been anathematized by forces determined to remake Mankind according to patterns utterly antithetical to the natures of the sexes.

     As matters stand, the problem is insoluble. And it hurts like hell to have to admit it.

     Time for Mass.

An Old Favorite Returns

     Glenn Reynolds brought this oldie but goodie back for a well-deserved rerun:

     I’ve sometimes wondered – and no, not when “in my cups,” or at least, not always – if some men who decide they’re really women are moved by a desire to have that particular tactic at their behest, instead of having it used against them.

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Religious Freedom” Part 2: Rights In The Raw

     I’ve received a fair amount of email since I penned the previous piece on this subject. Quite a bit of it was incredulous in the extreme, e.g., “How can you say that? Freedom of religion is a right.” Being indisposed to quarrel over premises, especially with persons whose premises I share, I’ve refrained from replying to those persons.

     Yet the subject is important – perhaps more important than any other subject in the discourse of Man. The problem of rights is the central conundrum of the centuries. Brilliant men have worried at it from innumerable angles, all seeking to put rights on a pedestal too high to be challenged. Some, such as the Objectivists, have claimed that the rights to life, liberty, and peaceably acquired property can be logically proved.

     It’s all froth and gas. There is no way to arrive at any right through a falsifiable process. In short:

A right is either a premise or a mere demand.

     Yes, I have an argument for that assertion.

     Consider the following quote, which I’ve used several times in discussions of rights:

     “Rights are an archist concept. Rights have no meaning except when confronted with superior power. They are what is left to the people after the government has taken all it wants. Your country's Bill of Rights defines your most cherished freedoms how? By limiting the legal power of government to encroach upon them.” [Eric L. Harry, via fictional anarchist theorist Valentin Kartsev in Harry's blockbuster Protect and Defend.]

     The concept of rights – specifically, of rights against the State – arose with the emergence of the State. Rights matter solely in a political context: one in which a particular entity is charged with respecting and enforcing rights. Without the State, we would have only individuals, voluntarily assembled groups, and their interactions.

     Yet we believe passionately in natural rights and in their supremacy over all other considerations. We want agreement on what rights individuals possess; the lack of such an agreement is at the base of most political discord in America today. We want rights to trump all other considerations. Yet anarcho-capitalist theorist David Friedman has demonstrated the impossibility of making rights so doctrinaire without endangering other things we hold at least as valuable:

     A madman is about to open fire on a crowd. If he does so numerous innocent people will die. The only way to prevent him is to shoot him with a rifle that is within reach of several members of the crowd. The rifle is on the private property of its legitimate owner. He is a well known misanthrope who has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he is opposed to letting anyone use his rifle without his permission, even if it would save hundreds of lives. [From The Machinery of Freedom]

     That’s a clear case of property rights in action in an undesired fashion: i.e., in a way that would, if honored, cost many lives. Many a dogmatist would argue that the rights to life of the innocents in the crowd are more important than that misanthrope’s property rights – in other words, that even among the natural rights there exists a hierarchy of priorities that requires that we honor some more stringently than others. But things are not quite so simple:

     Xanten made an airy gesture. “A. G. Philidor, you over-simplify grievously. Do you consider me obtuse? There are many kinds of history. They interact. You emphasize morality. But the ultimate basis of morality is survival. What promotes survival is good; what induces mortefaction is bad.”
     “Well spoken!” declared Philidor. “But let me propound a parable. May a nation of a million beings destroy a creature who otherwise will infect all with a fatal disease? Yes, you will say. Once more: Ten starving beasts hunt you, that they may eat. Will you kill them to save your life? Yes, you will say again, though here you destroy more than you create. Once more: a man inhabits a hut in a lonely valley. A hundred spaceships descend from the sky, and attempt to destroy him. May he destroy those ships in self-defense, even though he is one and they are a hundred thousand? Perhaps you say yes. What, then, if a whole world, a whole race of beings, pits itself against this single man? May he kill all? What if the attackers are as human as himself? What if he were the creature of the first instance, who otherwise will infect a world with disease? You see, there is no area where a simple touchstone avails.”

     [Jack Vance, The Last Castle.]

     Where, in the above passage, does the right to life prevail? Whose right to life, and at what cost to others?

     It’s not so simple, is it?

     The natural rights – i.e., the rights to life, liberty, and peaceably acquired property – that libertarians and most conservatives would agree on arise from the nature of Man. They are not provable theorems. They’re abstractions brilliant men formulated after observation, not from deduction or induction, as a way to concoct a political order they believed would be viable. If those rights “exist” – and that’s a thorny row to hoe – they are metaphysical properties, just like the rest of the natural order.

     The natural rights cannot be derived from other postulates as a matter of logic. When we say that we can “reason” our way to them, what we really mean is that from observation, we’ve concluded that certain conditions we regard as supremely desirable appear to require them. C. S. Lewis grasped that. But let’s try a few proofs. Here’s an advocatus diaboli sparring with a rights advocate:

AD: “Why do you believe there is a right to life?”
RA: “Because without it, society couldn't hold together.”
AD: “Well, why is it so important that society hold together?”


AD: “Why do you believe there is a right to life?”
RA: “Because without it people would slaughter one another.”
AD: “Well, why should that matter?”

     Such ripostes might strike a decent man as forays into madness, but that’s just because he values the same things we do. History tells us of vast empires whose rulers would have scoffed at a right to life. Some of their regimes were successful for several decades. Consider the following hypothetical exchange with a famous villain:

FWP: “Herr Hitler, why did you kill all those Jews?”
AH: “Because it was intrinsically right.”

     How would you refute that, especially in light of the historical fact that not one regime on Earth was willing to make war on Hitler’s Germany until he embarked on a campaign of military conquest?

     Freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution was a concern of importance to the Founding Fathers. Many of their forebears had come to the New World specifically to avoid having to support an established church: i.e., a church the State had selected as the “official” church of the realm, to which it directed funds from the public treasury. Under the Westphalian doctrine of cuius regio, eius religio, such churches were regarded as reasonable and proper. The religious dissidents of Europe disagreed with being forced to support such a church with their taxes.

     Yet history tells us that the early colonists’ passionate belief in their “right” to practice their own faiths did not preclude the establishment of their preferred churches in the New World. Indeed, Massachusetts had an established church into the 1830s. Such churches were disestablished only after regional religious affiliations became too diverse for an established church to withstand popular disapproval.

     Where, in that picture, is there any notion of freedom of religion as a natural right, beyond all contradiction?

     For a final thrust, we have the irreducibly narrow case of freedom of religion as “freedom of conscience:” i.e., the freedom to believe what one likes, divorced from all considerations of conduct. Is that a “right?” Or is it merely a condition no one can undo except through murder? If the latter, how does it involve adjudication or enforcement? If it doesn’t, there’s no place for it in a legal or political scheme.

     The pre-logical character of natural rights – i.e., as postulates rather than as theorems – is why Thomas Jefferson wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Freedom of religion is no exception.

     I've been down this road many times over the past three decades. It's time we were candid about it.